IMAGINE RAISING YOUR CHILDREN WITH NO HOME. No brick. No mortar. No foundation. Just family. It sounds chaotic, right? And dangerous. Something no parent in their right mind would intentionally choose. But our family chose to make that very decision, replacing the four stable walls of home with only the comfort of each other. Under the awning of our RV, we watch the stars make their slow appearance above the Mojave Desert. We are isolated, uprooted, and free in our solitude. There isn't a fellow human in sight, and it feels like we are the sole inhabitants of another planet. As the sun kisses the desert's rugged horizon, the outstretched arms of countless Joshua trees lift their hands from darkness into light. This is a new place, a different vantage point, a different sunset. And we are home because we are together.
We live a transient life by boat and RV
We are the Blakes, and our nomadic life is constantly redefining what home means for our family of four. A few weeks after my husband, Adam, and I started dating, we hit the road on his 750cc Honda Nighthawk. From Asheville, North Carolina to the California coast, we sat on the back of his motorcycle, on a cheap hotel pillow for two and a half weeks. His work was seasonal, and I had just been fired from yet another waitressing job. I remember riding outside Las Vegas in August. It was stiflingly hot. The air was so dry, the scenery could cut you like a knife. For hours, we sat in silence and let the world spin around us. We connected through this rugged landscape. With virtually no money, it was the freest I have ever felt. But it was also the most vulnerable. I have grown to love that feeling of instability, insecurity, and uncertainty. That is where inner growth happens—the deep kind that changes your life.
I think Adam and I both knew on a subconscious level that we had that in common. Before we met, Adam spent a year living in a teepee in the mountains of Western North Carolina. He made his own teepee poles and moved into the woods to live outside. just because. He encountered bears and endured subfreezing temperatures all in an effort to be close to the land. Adam is proof that you don't have to go to Bali to see the wild. The nomadic spirit lives deep inside us, and for Adam and I, it defines us. We rode every day on his motorcycle and camped every night until we reached California's coast. On the back of that bike I felt safe; I felt loved; and I felt like myself. I think that was my first taste of home. And now, with our 5-year-old Emilia and 2-year-old Pepper, home is wherever they are. And for them, it's wherever we are. We live a transient life, by boat and RV. After adjusting our] habits and mindsets, we have managed to transform the customary currencies of life from money and possessions to freedom and memories.
After adjusting our habits and mindsets, we have managed to transform the customary currencies of life from money and possessions to freedom andmemories.
Cell service was long since gone
Just last year, we went back and retraced our cross-country motorcycle road trip—this time with an RV and two kids. From North Carolina to California, we let the breathtaking scenery of the American landscape embrace us. (With a little more chatter from the backseats.) Two epic breakdowns and over 2,000 miles later, we made it to our most anticipated destination: Moab. After years of revisiting Utah's landscapes in our minds, we were eager to feel that dry air again. We parked our travel trailer at Goose Island Campground and wasted no time in satiating our wanderlust. Skipping the crowds at the national parks, we took a side road to go exploring. We headed towards a road sign called “Scenic Byway U-279.” Minutes passed as the landscape broke apart and redistributed itself into color, sun, rock, and sky. We were headed into the flat dry washbowl of Dead Horse Canyon. The pavement slowly disintegrated into gravel and dust. We stopped to study a national park information sign with a map of Potash Road, or Shafer Trail as it was known. Cell service was long since gone.
The visitor's center was only 10 miles away on the map, so we continued on. The road bumped along, past the Potash Ponds at the base of Dead Horse Canyon. The bottom of the canyon felt heavy, prehistoric, and sacred. About an hour in, we had to get out and line a path of large flat rocks for the wheels of our car to pass over a ditch. We were officially off-roading. A picture of what we had gotten ourselves into began to form in our minds. We were climbing up the sheer, straight walls of Dead Horse Canyon. A drop-off appeared on our left, hundreds of feet deep. Adam looked at me, “I don't think we should be here.” But what would be more hazardous: continuing on, or trying to turn our car around without enough space to do it safely and retracing our tracks all over again? We continued on, still confident that the visitor's center was around the corner. It wasn't. Adam's grip on the wheel tightened. The drop-offs went from hundreds of feet to thousands. The sun's heat made the scene before us absolute and unforgiving. (Luckily, the bumps in the road put our kids to sleep from the beginning of our drive. I don't think I could have faced the road ahead of us with the unrelenting inquisition of two toddlers behind us.) We were about halfway up the canyon as the road narrowed in the foreground of endlessly tight switchbacks.
The drop-off was heart-stopping, falling into the abyss of red rock and space. The view darted into my chest. I felt like a twist of lemon balancing precariously on the edge of a martini glass. The road behind me etched a winding contour through the canyon like an endless tapeworm. Turning around was no longer a possibility. As the tendrils of anxiety crept to the surface of my consciousness, like clockwork, both the children woke up. Their inquisition began just in time to turn a corner into the parking lot of the Canyonlands Visitor Center. A park ranger congratulated us on our completion of the legendary Potash off-roading trail, also known as Wall Street. I felt like I had just stepped into a pair of binoculars and emerged integrated with the landscape.
So much time traveling is spent chasing the scenery; it's rare to find a moment where you can actually step into the view. These spine-tingling adventures are a defining feature of our lives. Whether it's our luck or an inescapable attribute of a nomadic lifestyle, I will never know. I can only live my life and occasionally wonder how it compares to others. RV life is one of many ways to indulge the travel fever. You can hotel hop, resort hop, or Airbnb your way around the world. But what we love about being sailboats and RV owners is that you earn the right to call yourself a local wherever you go. Traveling with your house in tow is a labor that bears a special kind of fruit. Anyone can see Mexico from the balcony of a Sandals resort. But to watch it come into view from the bow of a sailboat after four days of open ocean, that's special.
These spine-tingling adventures are a defining feature of our lives. Whether it's our luck or an inescapable attribute of a nomadic lifestyle, I will never know. I can only live my life, and occasionally wonder how it compares to others
After four days of open ocean
A few months prior to our cross-country RV trip, we made a crossing of another kind: the Gulf of Mexico. For 10 years, Adam and I have been intermittently sailing on the protected waters of the Intercoastal Waterway. We started with a busted 28-foot sailboat and graduated to a reliable 38-foot Catamaran. Crossing the Gulf of Mexico was going to be a crash course in blue-water sailing. It was like taking a casual poker game from your kitchen table to high-stakes poker in Las Vegas. my children, overflowing with laughter and light. They kept arriving in groups of twos and threes from their villages in the sea until we had a convoy of mammals preceding us. They eased the tension and isolation we all felt. Late that night I lay awake in our bed as the water slapped the hulls of the boat.
The kids were sound asleep on either side of me, unphased by our endless bobbing about. They were too young to be bothered by the existential agonies that clinched my every nerve. But even I was unaware of the real crisis taking place above deck while I lay sleepless below. The next morning, Adam relayed our near collision with a container ship the previous night. He described how a massive ship had materialized on the horizon line—darker than the night and big as a skyscraper. The AIS alarm (automatic tracking system) didn't go off when it should have. Adam saw the ship, but the port and stern lights weren't visible, making the scene is even more confusing. The red and green lights weren't visible because the ship was pointed directly at us. It was so close Adam could smell the diesel burning off its engines as it turned to avoid hitting us. Being under sail means being at the mercy of the wind, the weather, the current, and the massive, ever-increasing tide of container ships in our oceans.
Our second evening was met with an ocean of darkness and an unparalleled display of stars. The water rushed against the side of the boat as we moved steadily on. I sat on night watch and observed our track on the GPS unit move slowly off course as the winds died. Without sufficient wind power, we were at the mercy of the Gulf Stream which carved its way across the Gulf of Mexico not once, but twice. We put more sail out and tried to harness every little spec of wind. The breeze picked up later that night, calming my nerves and putting us back on course. We sailed into the clear blue waters of our destination on the fourth day. Isla Mujeres, Mexico welcomed us into the anchorage with all the quintessential Latin American flavor and flare. I was full to bursting with pride and gratitude for my kids. Their boundless positivity and adaptability were a guiding light on our journey. I wasted no time going ashore to buy my little globetrotters a set of matching hand-embroidered Mexican dresses. Watching Pepper and Emilia's faces as they let the sights, sounds and colors of Mexico register around them was a treasured moment.
No part of this lifestyle comes without a struggle, but watching the faces of my children as they discover new things about the world we live in makes it all feel pretty natural and worthwhile
What if your travel is indefinite?
The world through their eyes as they make new discoveries. But don't let social media fool you. Traveling with kids is hard. The struggle is real, and embracing it is the only way to success. On our cross-country RV trip, we got to know that struggle really well. Keeping two children safe and entertained from North Carolina to California, and back, was an undertaking that sapped all of my strength. I remember arriving at Saguaro National Park in Arizona after eight grueling hours of driving. The kids were dying to get out of the car. I couldn't find their shoes, and there were no less than six species of cacti in our small RV site alone. The dog escaped and I watched helplessly as she went frolicking amongst the pin cushions. It's moments like these that the family goes unhinged.
But we endure, the moment passes, and we continue on. We redirected our attention away from the cactus chaos and hit the visitor's center to pick up a Junior Ranger Workbook (available at all National Parks). Soon, the sun abated and we took off on a Junior Ranger scavenger hunt. We saw a tarantula, coyote, scorpion, and rattlesnake all under the luminous light of a Hunter's Moon. Homeschooling is inevitable for full-time family travel. The National Parks Junior Ranger Program acted as a soft itinerary that doubled as a homeschooling curriculum during our RV travels.
Through a world schooling education model, our children's learning is paired with endless possibilities for applied learning. As a traveling family, we can take our children's education outside the pages of a book, and into the real world. Every school day is a field trip and a learning experience for all of us. No part of this lifestyle comes without a struggle, but watching the faces of my children as they discover new things about the world we live in makes it all feel pretty natural and worthwhile. After years of traveling, I have learned that our memories are like photo albums. No one puts the meltdowns or the temper tantrums in the album that sits on Grandma's coffee table. The present moment of family travel is a mess of uprooted children and parents whirling around each other in a tornado of logistical chaos.
After the trip is over and you arrive home, you can reshape your memories into the idealized story that we all want to hear about. A trip isn't romanticized until the trip is over and you're retelling it from the cozy cushions of your living room couch. Until then, you have to live in the reality of the struggle. But what if your travel is indefinite, and you aren't going home? For us, accepting the struggle is the biggest, and hardest part. It's difficult to give ourselves permission to be imperfect, or to feel uncomfortable, or, to the horror of horrors: both at the same time. But quite frankly, the challenge is real whether you're sitting under the awning of your RV in a secluded California desert, or sitting on the couch with the remote in your hand. For now, we have chosen the challenge with an ever-changing view.