RV Road Tripping with Heather on Homeschool Travel Connect

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Hi, you are listening to Homeschool Travel Connect. This is a podcast all about homeschooling families who travel or living internationally. Today, I’m talking with Heather who spent six weeks driving through 15 states with three kids, including a baby who was two months old. Heather shares a bunch of really great tips and tricks for anyone that is looking into RV travel, so stay tuned for that. And if you want to find her or traveling homeschoolers, make sure to join our Facebook group, Homeschool Travel Connect. If you want to find some links to the sites we reference in this podcast, go to sleepdeprivedinseattle.com/podcast which is my blog. That is sleepdeprivedinseattle.com/podcast. Alright, so without further ado, here is Heather talking about road tripping with her family. We start with my amazement of her bravery with traveling with a two-month-old.

Olesya: Oh my gosh, so you did an RV trip for six weeks with a two-month-old?

Heather: Yes.

Olesya: So did you have – like in an RV, it’s all one room right?

Olesya: Pretty much. Our RV is 28 feet, and so it has a back bedroom – so like a master bedroom that we could separate off, but not by a real door, it’s just kind of a curtain.

Olesya: And he just slept with you guys?

Heather: Yeah, there was a space, so either side has like a closet in the master. And on my side, it’s got an open area where there was kind of like a little bit of a nightstand. It was about 18 inches of open space in between the top of the counter and then the closet starting, about 18 inches. And it was right next to my side of the bed and I put, basically a changing pad, like a changing pad there and he slept there right next to me on the bed so there was no way he could roll off. So he slept there and then I would co-sleep with him.

Olesya: Oh wow. That’s crazy.

Heather: It was awesome. It worked really well. And then over the head of the camping, it’s a class C which is a truck with an RV built on it. So it’s not one of those big buses. It’s a…

Olesya: Yeah, yeah. I know exactly what you are talking about.

Heather: It’s like an F450. So over the head of the truck is a queen-size bed bunk, and both of my girls slept up there and that curtains off. So it is like they have their own room and then we have ours in the back. And then there’s the common area with the kitchen and the living in the middle.

Olesya: Wow. What was the conversation like for you and your husband to decide to do that?

Heather: So we were supposed to do it – we did a two week trip with the girls when I was pregnant in January last year. And it was down the coast and back up, down to – I can’t think of the name of the actual city that we were doing, but Los Angeles basically, and then we did it back up the coast of California and Oregon so we stopped and saw the Sea Lion Caves and all of that kind of stuff – all kinds of fun stuff. And so that was kind of our test run to see how it would go. And then we decided okay, well we want to do a trip to Arkansas which is where a bunch of our family lives. And so we thought we were going to do it January when he was a bit older, we thought we would go down the coast again and…but then my husband’s mother had to have an emergency surgery, and that was in September. And so we said you know what, we need to go see her anyway, she’s got six weeks that she has to be off work, so let’s just do this. So we did. Instead of going down California again, we got to go over to Yellowstone and then to Mount Rushmore and then down to Arkansas through Nebraska and Kansas.

Olesya: Cool. I bet the kids liked that.

Heather: Yeah, that was pretty cool. We got to do four or five days in Yellowstone which we’re going back there again in the fall.

Olesya: Is it as great as people say it is?

Heather: It’s awesome. It’s pretty awesome. It takes two hours to drive from one end of Yellowstone to the other. That’s what most people don’t know because it is that big.

Olesya: So it is worth two trips?

Heather: Yeah, yeah. And you don’t want to plan on going, like Josh’s sister is going for three days…

Olesya: And that’s too little?

Heather: You’re just going to hit a few sites; you’ll get like Old Faithful and a couple of other things, but you won’t have time to really enjoy it. Like we spent four days, and we left at four days going, “Man, we wish we had scheduled more time.” Because we didn’t do any of the hiking trails at all, just a couple of geyser trails because the kids are a little young for the hiking trails. But you know there was a bison walking down the middle-of-the-road that passed by our RV, literally a foot away from my middle daughter. So my three-year-old gets to see a bison, a real one – it’s free, a foot away from her. It was pretty amazing.

Olesya: Was she scared?

Heather: No, not at all. They were very excited. They had a great time. They were obsessed with scat* and tracks. The national parks – and this is something I don’t know how you are doing this podcast, if you are like taking this now and going to do parts of it or what, but I will tell you, the national parks are such an amazing resource when you are traveling. Anytime you see a national park nearby where you are traveling, you should completely put it on your list because they all offer Junior Ranger programs.

Olesya: Okay yeah, I have heard of those, yeah.

Heather: For kids whatever age, all ages. And they have specific things they have to – you get it when you get there, and you have specific things you have to complete for that age group and you earn a Junior Ranger patch. It’s a big patch. It’s got the name of the national park on it, and it’s got the picture from the national park. And so there’s all these different patches you can earn and…

Olesya: That’s super cool.

Heather: And it’s really cool because whenever you finish your stuff, you have to take it to a Ranger, the Ranger will actually go over it with the kids to make sure they did it and understand it. And then they have to hold up their hands and swear them in. So I have five videotapes with my girls getting sworn in to be Junior Rangers. And it’s awesome, my mom is making them a vest to put it on, so that all those patches we earn from our travels, they can…

Olesya: Yeah I mean, that’s a great homeschooling resource.

Heather: That’s what I’m saying, I mean I didn’t even have to plan homeschool lessons because…

Olesya: Yeah it’s just they learn.

Heather: And on top of that, she kept a journal every day. So for her writing assignment and spelling, she would write in her journal of what she saw that she loved. And then she would draw a picture of it or draw something else and write something else about it. It’s a lot of fun.

Olesya: Do you feel like homeschooling is easier on the road in some ways?

Heather: Yes and no. So I took everything. Here I am, it’s her first kindergarten year and although we’ve been doing lessons for a year, my daughter is – she’s reading at about a third or fourth grade level, that is why we homeschool. And I took our math, RightStart Math as our curriculum and I took our spelling, All About Spelling. I was all prepared to do the lessons. When you are traveling, those kind of lessons don’t happen as much, they just don’t.

Olesya: Yeah, I can imagine. It’s hard to convince anyone to do that right?

Heather: Right, exactly. And you say well we can do it while we’re driving, that’s probably true if I didn’t have a two month old with me. But on the way to Yellowstone, we drove 13 hours in one day because we were running late. My daughter, my oldest, read to my youngest for 11 hours.

Olesya: Wow that is impressive. What did she read that was so interesting to her?

Heather: Everything, she loves to read. It’s her thing. So every national park we went to, we let her buy one book. We picked out a book. So we look on scat and tracks.

Olesya: She’s a regular Northwest girl.

Heather: So those kind of lessons didn’t really happen, but I will tell you, she learned all kinds of stuff that your normal kindergartner does not know. Like whenever we went to Carlsbad Caverns in Arizona – New Mexico, she learned all about stalactites and stalagmites.

Olesya: I don’t even know what that is.

Heather: Stalactites and stalagmites, they are inside the caves. They are the points that go down in the cave and the points that go up. She learned all about those. She learned about how they were formed. She learned about bats inside caves. She got to see them.

Olesya: I bet that she remembers that. She will remember it so much better than a regular lesson because of the novelty of the experience, the excitement.

Heather: And she got her journal to write about all those so she can look back and remember things from her trip. And we have all of the brochures, and there was so much information there, so much, at all of the national parks that’s free, and you take it with you and you review it. You can go back over and relive the experience with them and relearn it all over again. So I think in that way, it was fantastic for homeschool because I never would have done that at home, all of those things that we did.

Olesya: I know, why would you cover that when you have math and spelling and you know, reading.

Heather: Right, and that’s the thing now, is that yes I get in the math and spelling lessons every day now, but I don’t get in the science lessons and all of that.

Olesya: Exactly, that is my struggle too, science.

Heather: Yeah and so that’s the ones that are hard, is the ones that you’re like yeah I need to do those but…

Olesya: Yeah, I always feel like I don’t have any good ideas.

Heather: I have ideas, but let’s get real, how often do you want to break out that kind of mess in your kitchen?

Olesya: Yes. That’s basically what I’m saying, yeah. You’re right, there’s tons of ideas out there. It’s just the mess.

Heather: But then I actually have to prepare it and get it all out and do the lesson and then clean it up and then the whole time I’ve got a six month old screaming.

Olesya: Yeah I mean, we did one of those volcanoes and that happened once, then that was like our science of the year.

Heather: Yeah, pretty much. But so as far as science and history – those, oh my gosh. She got a year’s worth of lessons in that trip in six weeks because that is what we focused on. I’m not messed up about it because in those six weeks, we learned seriously a year’s worth of information, because you know at Yellowstone we had geysers. So we learned about the Earth’s crust, and we learned about the heat inside the planet that was heating up the geysers. We talked about volcanoes and why those heat up. And that Yellowstone is actually – could explode from pressure and stuff. And not only that, Yellowstone has a humongous canyon, a really big canyon. And the canyon is very, very different looking than what we visited six weeks later at the Grand Canyon. It looked completely different. They are both huge, but they were formed differently. Yellowstone’s was formed by exploding lava and exploding earth and then it collapsed on itself, so everything goes down. Like if you look at it, all the lines are down. It’s like running whereas Grand Canyon is layers because it was cut by a river. And so whenever we were at Yellowstone and I knew we were going to see Grand Canyon and I was able to say now look really closely at how this canyon was formed. We’re going to see something totally different at the Grand Canyon and I want you to be able to tell me why it is different.

Olesya: Just learning as she go, that’s really cool. So I’m just curious about the logistical*aspects. I know a lot of people want to do RV trips and like long road trips, but they just don’t know where to get started.

Heather: So the number one way to get started is – and people always ask about the affordability.

Olesya: Yeah, because RVs are expensive. That’s what I’ve heard at least.

Heather: So here’s what we did and this is what kicked it all out for us. We went looking for a small camper, they can be towed by a minivan, because we thought okay cheap, whatever, $20,000 at most. And when we were looking, we asked the person on the RV, the camper log, we said just out of curiosity, how much are these RVs. And he said well that depends, do you plan on buying it out right and leaving with it or do you plan on putting it into our rental program? That’s when we said I’m sorry, what? So what happens is, you purchase the RV which we were able to purchase at a wholesale price because we were doing it rental program, which is about $30,000 off. So the RV normally would be 88,000 or so, 90,000, we were able to get it for about 60,000. Then you turn around, you form an LLC which is extremely easy to do.

Olesya: Yeah, it’s pretty simple. So I’ve heard.

Heather: Yes, you form an LLC. You’re within a business and your RV is stored at their site. This is a place in Everett that we use. And they store it, they maintain it, they rent it out, they do all the work. If there is ever any kind of harm done to your RV, they file the insurance claim, they handle it all. And you are commercially insured through their insurance. We have a binder there like you would if you were going to – what’s the name of that website that does house swaps and house rentals?

Olesya: FlipKey, Airbnb?

Heather: Airbnb. So we have a binder that we leave in our RV that lets people know. It’s got a picture of our family. We named our RV. Her name is Wendy. And we’ve got all kinds of stuff and we ask people to write us notes of where they have taken her…

Olesya: That’s super cool. I didn’t even know that existed.

Heather: Yes. And so people rent our RV out and it’s like I think $180 a night for them to rent it, and we get half the money. We get half the money from the rental, they get the other half. We get to write it off our taxes as a business loss whenever we sell it. If at the end, if we lose money on the RV selling it – normally, they keep them in a program for four years before they are done and then they get sold and you can get another one if you want to. It’s a second home, so we get a tax deduction as a second home. My husband’s pretty, he’s pretty OCD about like financial stuff. So he made a whole spreadsheet about the best months to buy it blah blah blah. Worst-case scenario, we lose $800 on it. Best case scenario, we make 1000.

Olesya: Oh, that’s crazy.

Heather: Yeah.

Olesya: I had no idea.

Heather: Yeah, most people don’t. I tell people about this all the time, because it’s amazing for us because we don’t have to do anything. We don’t have to do anything, they do everything. All we do is we call and tell them when we want to use it. And if our RV is rented out at that time, we can take someone else’s RV that’s in the program and give them the money from our rental.

Olesya: Okay, so yeah. It’s not like you’re ever even stuck…

Heather: No, I can take it anytime I want to, as long as there is any RV available, but normally it’s not hard. And then what we do since we homeschool, we never go in season. So in season is from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and that’s when it rents out pretty much every day. The one thing that we did discover after the first California trip is that it is best to tow a car, an extra car, because it is hard to unhook and take your RV driving around the city. You’re not as likely to travel and explore because it requires you unhooking, all that kind of stuff. So because – and we talked about it, we’re like we could rent a car and stuff, but whenever you’re in places like Yellowstone, now you can’t. So you can either drive your RV out into the middle of everything or you have to tow your car.

Olesya: Are you comfortable driving the RV?

Heather: Yes.

Olesya: Yeah, you are?

Heather: The class C RVs, it’s just like driving a minivan. It’s a little longer obviously, but they have mirrors that make it super easy. And you will find that when you are driving them, people assume you are 80 years old. So the moment you put on your blinker, they move out of the way for you. So it really was easy to drive it. The only time that I’ve been nervous riding in the RV or driving it, is on our way back at the coast; a highway was closed because of mudslides in California, right outside Malibu. And so we had to take a side road to get over to the interstate, and those mountains, they’re so narrow. It’s one car up and one car back, no rails.

Olesya: And it’s winding right?

Heather: No rails, super winding, 2000 feet down. I’m afraid of heights.

Olesysa: Yeah I mean, I think anyone is afraid of heights in that circumstance.

Heather: Yeah, well my husband was fine. Luckily, we were on the inside of the road most of the time because I was just sitting there silently frozen with just tears streaming down my face. And I was pregnant and I was thinking oh my God, the hormones you’re getting right now.

Olesya: Exactly, hormones. But you guys made it, you survived.

Heather: Yeah, so that was the only time that I’ve been nervous in the RV. Other than that, it’s great. And whenever you are driving, the fantastic thing is with young children, you can say, “Oh you need to go to the bathroom? Let me take you out of your car seat and go take you to the bathroom and push you back in.” “Oh, everyone is hungry. I’m going to go up to the fridge, because the fridge stays on all the time. I’m going to make a snack, make a sandwich.” Nobody has to get out, nobody has to stop. The only thing we stopped for when we were driving, is for my husband and I to change driving and get gas.

Olesya: Yeah, that makes things go a lot faster, because the stopping for snacks and bathroom breaks, the more kids you have, the more bathroom breaks you – like I mean even if you try to make them go to the bathroom like – someone always has to pee.

Heather: The main thing with the RV thing is that especially if you get a good rate on credit, if you’ve got good credit, you can get a good loan. It’s super cheap because you can deduct the interest on your loan as a business expense for everything – I mean as a business. And so you are really get any a lot of deductions on all of that, and the company itself that is doing all the work loves you because they are using your credit to fill their fleet.

Olesya: Expand their business. Yeah, that makes sense.

Heather: Right. So it’s a win, win for both situations. If we bought an RV, we would have to find a place to store it.

Olesya: Yes, to park it and most people don’t have a space to do that.

Heather: And we would be getting no income off of it or we could rent it out ourselves, but then we would have to clean it, we would have to file the interest claims, we would have to maintain all of it.

Olesya: I’m really curious about the national parks, I haven’t been to a ton. Which one would you say is the must see if you could only see one?

Heather: That’s ridiculously difficult. So first I have to say, we went to Yellowstone, Rushmore, Carlsbad Caverns and White Sand National Monument. The last one was the Grand Canyon – no, and then Petroglyph National Park which is 1000 year old petroglyphs carved into rocks. I would say that of those, my kids’ favorite was White Sand National Monument, because they sled down huge 60 foot white sand beaches. It’s like the snow, but warm. My can’t miss is probably Yellowstone. It is pretty amazing. I mean I love the Grand Canyon and all, but it wasn’t as much of a long learning experience as Yellowstone was. Yellowstone, you could spend a couple weeks very easily and not get the full experience. I was really surprised at Rushmore, because we kind of expected it to be like yep, there it is, and we’re going to see the mountain and you’re done. They have so much there for the kids to interact with and do at the museum.

Olesya: Yeah, I feel like Rushmore gets a bad rep, like people think it’s just you know…

Heather: No, it was really interesting. Like Josh and I totally expected it to be like just go and then leave, but it was not. We spent several hours there actually. Yeah, but Yellowstone is the one that I would say you shouldn’t miss for sure; the animals which you’ve got, the bison, you got elk – and you get to see these up close. There are bears. There are wolves. And that doesn’t even include all the little animals that of course you would see. There is mountain goats. There is…

Olesya: Are they just roaming? Like they just kind of roam around?

Heather: Yeah. When we were at Yellowstone, the main office for Yellowstone, I heard an elk came grazing.

Olesya: Is there like something that you brought that you wouldn’t have thought of that really helped you out on that long trip? Is there some kind of magic trick or thing?

Heather: Books are our magic trick. Two or three big wide bins of them, bigger than shoebox size. I’m trying to think what the next size bigger than a shoebox size of the plastic bins. We sit them all up on edge and stuff it full of books. That was the number one winner. On top of that is figurines because they don’t take up much space, but it provides endless hours of play.

This coming year, Heather’s family has plans to visit Austin, Yellowstone, and drive all the way to Cancun, Mexico, all in their RV with their family of five.

If you like hearing about awesome homeschool families like Heather’s, subscribe to this podcast and look forward to an episode a week, and look for us at Homeschool Travel Connect on Facebook. We are a Facebook group, otherwise, I will see you all next week.

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