They’re too young to worry about official school. But in each park, Graham earns his Jr. Ranger badge, and he learns a lot from the booklets as we work through them together. We’re also starting to teach him to read. More than anything, though, we just talk a lot—Graham asks tons of questions about the things around us and we have loads of hiking and driving time to talk about animals and people and nature and U.S. geography and anything he is curious about!
What are you doing for money?
This is by far the question we get asked the most; it’s also the thing I’m most curious about when I see other full-time travelers, so I get it! For us, it’s a combination of things. We saved up a chunk for buying and building out the bus and to get us started on our trip. We’re renting out our apartment in NYC, which helps us cover big costs like insurance. David sells his photography here and does some freelance graphic design work.
For adventure-y excursions, like boat tours, helicopter rides, and charter flights, we’ve been very fortunate to partner with a few awesome companies who give us comped or discounted services in exchange for marketing work. We also have a bunch of side hustles in the works! We’re open to sponsorships, both for individual blog posts and for the trip more broadly—if you think your company would be a good fit, or if you know of a company that would, we’d love to hear from you!
I think we also have to note that being able to do this is an enormous privilege. We were super fortunate not to have debt and to be able to save up to buy the bus. We also couldn’t do this if we didn’t have something to fall back on in case everything goes haywire; if we were ever in trouble, we could crash with our parents until we figured it out. So while we’ve worked hard to be able to do this and we’re funding it all ourselves, we also recognize that having a fall-back place to go makes our situation a whole lot more tenable. There are a lot of ways to make road life work if it’s what you want to do, but it would be disingenuous to tell you determination is the only important factor.
For more details on how we make money from the road, check out this post!
What are your biggest costs?
Health insurance and gas. We cut costs by cooking all (or almost all) our meals and by finding free places to camp (more on that below!)
What do you do for health insurance?
Even before we moved onto the road, when David was working full-time in NYC, we were getting our insurance through the New York State Marketplace. Obamacare isn’t perfect, but we have many warm feelings about it; it’s brought healthcare costs within reach for us.
As for getting care, we have some awesome docs in NYC that answer all our questions over email. Emergency care is covered anywhere in the U.S., but for regular services, we got everyone checked out and updated before we left the city and we’ll all see the doc and update the kids’ vaccines when we pass through the city again this fall.
How did you build the bus?
The short answer is, we spent a lot of time asking questions to Google and watching YouTube videos :). For the long answer check out our blog post about it
Why did you choose a bus instead of a van or an RV?
We needed a bit more space than a van, and we liked that we could customize a bus and that it’s safer than an RV. For a more in-depth answer, check out this post!
How is the bus/build holding up?
Honestly, better than we expected! We’ve had no trouble with the bus itself (knock on wood!) and everything we built inside has held up really well. We’ve been on some rough roads over the past few months as we drove up to Alaska, around, and back, so we’ve occasionally had to tighten screws and batten down the hatches a bit.
How are the kids doing?
Awesome. They have been rockstars. This was our biggest worry as we were planning this trip, and we decided early on that if the kids weren’t adjusting well after a month, we would ditch our plans and find something that worked for them. They seemed to take to road life right away, though. We’re spending lots of time outside, they get to see David much more, and we have seen and done some awesome things. One thing I love about living on the road is that even though we’re often in a different place every night, we’re always in the same space. The kids sleep in the same beds every night and have all their favorite things around them.
It’s not all sunshine and roses, of course; we have to adjust our plans frequently when the kids aren’t feeling whatever we’re doing. Our hiking is usually limited to what Graham can manage and we move slowly, so we’re not able to take on super ambitious trails. But we think the tradeoff is worth it—the kids make everything way more fun!
How long is your trip?
We’re planning on roughly 18 months; we left in April 2017 and are planning to be back in NYC by September 2018 for Graham to start kindergarten.
Why national parks?
We love the idea of preserving wild places for people to go recreate, recharge, and witness the wonder of nature. We’re huge supporters of the National Park Service and we think America’s national parks preserve some of the most stunning scenery in the world. The NPS also manages national monuments, historic sites, battlefields, and more, adding up to 417 sites currently. All of these places look amazing; we initially thought the national parks were the best of the best of these sites, but we’ve come to realize that each site’s status has more to do with politics than anything else. Still, limiting our trip to the 59 national parks is manageable and is showing us an incredible cross-section of the American landscape. There’s also an awesome side benefit: the national parks attract people from all over the States and the world, from all demographics, and traveling in these places has given us a chance to meet and talk to so many fascinating people. It is one of our favorite parts of the trip for sure!
What kind of camera and lens do you use?
See this post here for all our gear.
How do you take night sky pictures?
This usually involves some experimenting with camera settings on location, but usually David is shooting on a tripod with a 30-second exposure. There’s obviously a bit more to it than that but that’s the basic idea. David has been into night sky photography for a long time so he’s picked up a lot of tricks over the years.
What has been your favorite park so far?
We’re not into ranking the parks, because our experience at each one is so dependent on timing, weather, our moods, and other random unplannables, like wildlife sightings. Also, as soon as we start listing favorites, we end up naming pretty much every park we’ve been to. But some of our Top of the Tops have been Katmai, Redwoods, Glacier, and Wrangell-St. Elias.
Where do you find places to camp?
We rarely pay for campgrounds—we don’t need water or power hookups, so we can stay pretty much anywhere. We’ve camped at rest stops, truck stops, highway pullouts, Walmart parking lots, in front of friends’ houses, in national forests and on BLM land. We often use the AllStays app and www.freecampsites.net to find spots where other people have camped free.
How do you handle *ahem* bathroom stuff in the bus?
We have a portable water heater that hooks up to our propane and water tanks so we can take showers outside. We also find coin-operated and campground showers when we can.
As for toilet stuff, we have a little portable toilet in our bus which we haven’t used yet, but is there in case of emergency. We basically just go wherever and whenever we can; there are usually either public bathrooms where we are or we’re in the woods. In the latter situation, this little thing has been clutch for Madi (TMI?).
The kids won’t remember any of this; why didn’t you wait to do this until they were older?
We actually hear this a lot and I find it really interesting, because it hadn’t occurred to me before we left to think of this as a downside. The implication is that what makes traveling worthwhile is our later recollection of it, and while memories are certainly fun, I’m not sure they’re necessary to enjoying the benefits of travel. We are constantly influenced by past events, even without actively recalling them, and I think travel’s most salient benefit is in shaping our views, perspectives, and character.
Obviously it would be awesome if the kids remember the trip, but we think there are other benefits that don’t rely on memory but will shape them in happy ways as they grow up: spending lots of time together, being outside all day, exploring and growing curious about nature, etc. I don’t know that there is ever an ideal time for something like this, and we knew that once the kids started school it would be harder to do. So here we are; if it turns out to be a total bust, it’s seriously the funnest bust I could imagine :).