Travelling as a family can be tough, especially for the parents.
But then, it can also be incredibly rewarding. Since they set off from Pennsylvania in January, Travellerspoint members Claire, Jere and Joe Engelman have been road tripping around the United States and Canada. Now back in the U.S. on their final stretch home, Claire wrote me to talk a little about the inspiration behind the trip and her thoughts on travelling as a family.
First off, some introductions. Who are the Engelmans?
There are three of us (Mom, Dad, Joe) traveling together for our current 7-month trip.
Mom (Claire): I’m a proud mother of 3 adult daughters and a 12-year-old son. Our daughters are college graduates who are now scattered across the U.S. Although our daughters no longer travel with us, they did travel with us to all 50 states when they were growing up. Only our 12-year-old son travels with us now.
I took early retirement (“the golden handshake”) from Hershey Foods Marketing Department several years ago during a major downsizing. I wanted to spend more time with my young son and have more time to be available to help my other family members. I have also spent the last few years fixing up our house that was neglected during the 15 years that my husband & I were both working full-time while raising our family.
Dad (Jere): He worked for the U.S. Navy (as a civilian) for 33 years and retired at the end of 2006. He has always wanted to travel around the country; however, with the exception of a few weeks of vacation each year, work always ‘interfered’ with his travel dreams.
Joe: He will be entering the 7th grade this fall. He loves to read, play computer & video games, and play soccer. He was home-schooled for the second half of 6th grade while we traveled.
The three of us live in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania and have been traveling in our 35 ft 5th wheel travel trailer since January, 2007. We now refer to our small 2-story house in Mechanicsburg as “our country estate”. This is our second trip in our trailer—our first was a 4-week trip in 2006 to the northeastern U.S. and Nova Scotia & Prince Edward Island, Canada. We’ve camped many times prior to having our trailer, but always in a tent. We’ve visited all 50 states at least once, including a 4-week cross-country tenting trip many years ago with our three daughters—the ultimate ‘road trip’. We’ve also taken several family cruises to the Caribbean.
What inspired this trip?
My husband has always wanted to buy a trailer and travel across the country. To go way back to what inspired the trip—I blame the 1960s Chevrolet TV commercial “See the USA in your Chevrolet” that was repeatedly shown on the U.S. television show “Bonanza” every Sunday night over and over again. I think the commercial brain-washed my husband, who was a little boy at the time, into thinking that everyone needed to see the U.S.A. in a car. It has taken him 30 years of marriage to convince me to buy a trailer to travel across the country. Being a business analyst I worked the numbers and proved to him that it would be substantially cheaper to drive across the country and stay in hotels and eat in restaurants, but he has always wanted to go in an RV of some type for as long as I’ve known him. Again, I blame the Chevrolet commercial jingle “See the USA in your Chevrolet” as brain-washing him as a young child. I love to travel, so I agreed to give this RV thing a try.
The 30 foot Jengelman home
Why the U.S.A. and Canada? It’s simply cheaper for us to travel in the U.S. and Canada, rather than travel the world. We’re blessed with enough money to travel the U.S., but not enough to travel around the world.
What have been some of the biggest highlights so far for each of you?
For our son, Disney World and Disneyland. I wish I could say that he’s loved the historical parks and beautiful scenery, but he loves amusement parks, especially Disney parks. He also enjoyed the two weeks in California visiting his oldest sister, who he only gets to see once or twice per year since she lives so far away. He’s also enjoyed trying to dam up every small creek that we’ve visited on the trip.
For me, the national parks that we have visited. I loved Yosemite, despite the cold, damp weather when we visited in April. Others complain about the crowds at Yosemite, but there were no crowds in April, and I’m not sure why, but there is something almost spiritual when I walk in Yosemite Valley and look up at the grandeur in the early morning solitude. I also thoroughly enjoyed camping and hiking in Big Bend National Park in Texas. I enjoyed the wildlife and wildflowers in Denali National Park. We’re now in Banff National Park in Canada and again – beautiful scenery. As much as I enjoy meeting and talking with people (my children will tell you that I will start up a conversation with anybody), the beauty of the national parks that we have visited has definitely been the highlight for me.
For my husband, visiting family and simply the fact that he is doing something that he has been thinking about for many years. “Seeing things that I’ve never seen before and may never see again.”
Summit Lake, Alaska
I was reading some of the early posts in your blog and discovered something I hadn’t realised yet... You brought your cat, Rosdale! How has he coped with the trip?
Rosdale is laying here beside the laptop and looking out the window as I answer these questions. He enjoys laying here and looking out the window. He’s an older cat that is an indoor/outdoor cat at home, so we weren’t sure how he’d adapt to RV life. He spent the first few nights ‘crying’ but seems to be enjoying the trip since then. Surprisingly, he really doesn’t like to go outside. We occasionally take him out on a leash, but after a few minutes he’s anxious to get back inside the trailer. He does not like the noise and bumps of the ride. When we’re on the road he hides under the covers in our front bedroom. Cats are much easier to take on a trip than a dog—we can leave him in the trailer for the day if we’re on a long hike or drive.
What are you doing school-wise for Joe?
Joe attended middle school for the first half of 6th grade, but completed the second half of 6th grade while traveling. In Pennsylvania home-schooling is allowed as long as you follow the state’s rules. The rules basically are that you need to have a state-approved supervisor review your plans at the beginning of the year, review a portfolio of the student’s work at the end of the year, and interview the student at the end of the year. We submitted the plans to our local school district and our home school supervisor before we left on our trip; we sent in the portfolio of his work to the supervisor at the end of May; and then we did the interview by telephone. Our school district, Joe’s teachers and his home school supervisor have been very supportive of the trip.
We have met a few families that are home-schooling while traveling, but not many. They all feel that the education that takes place while traveling is well worth the ‘work’ involved in home-schooling. I was responsible for Joe’s home-schooling while we traveled and it does take time and effort. We borrowed the books that Joe was using at middle school and used them on the road. We basically completed the same work that he would have done at school. We supplemented the school’s books with other books that we thought would be interesting for him to read, mainly related to the geography and history of the areas we were visiting. We also had him keep a written journal of his travels. We did try some computer-based educational CDs, but none of the ones we tried were very good, so we discontinued using educational CDs. We also supplemented his books with several websites for math and geography that his school district uses. The educational websites were much better than any of the CDs we purchased.
I think Joe has learned so much during our trip—geography, history, science, and many new vocabulary words. The only subject that is missing is math, so we have to make sure that we take time to cover math concepts during the trip.
I recently read advice on another travel blog that said that travelling as a family is a bonding experience. Have you found this?
Traveling together as a family is absolutely a bonding experience. I think many adults will remember their family vacation as some of their best times together as a family. When we’re at home, we all have so many other commitments and chores. As parents, we always say that our children are our most important things in our lives, but we end up spending so much time on other things (work, chores, community & church activities, etc). I hope that Joe looks back on this trip as a good time with Mom and Dad.
Also, some of my best memories of my daughters growing up are from our many trips together. My husband and I are so glad that we took at least one vacation trip with our family every year when they were growing up. The trips were in a tent when we were young and were never ‘first class’ travel, but we saw & experienced many new things -- and the time we spent together as a family is priceless.
What advice do you have for parents who are hesitant to embark on big trips with their children?
We took our first family trip when our first child was six months old. It was in a 4-man tent to the state of Virginia and it rained every day (8 days), with some days getting over an inch of rain. I remember waking up one night with a very wet sleeping bag, but our six month old was dry & sleeping soundly in the middle of the tent. We wish we would have had better weather, but it was the best week that we had with our new daughter since she was born!
My one piece of advice: Start traveling with your children when they’re young. Kids are amazingly resilient. When things go wrong on vacation, they don’t seem to care near as much as the parents. Traveling with young children is so enjoyable – small children find so much enjoyment in the small things we take for granted.
As far as advice for big trips: If you have the time, the money and the desire to go on a big trip as a family, go for it. I would recommend trying a shorter trip of several weeks duration before embarking out on a 7-month long trip. Last summer we did a 4-week trip to the New England states, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. We used ours likes/dislikes from that trip to help us plan our current 7-month trip. Also, I would recommend planning for 3-6 months—I think 7 months is too long, but my husband would like to go longer. My son and I are ready to go home to see our friends.
And the last piece of advice, as with any big trip, spend as much time planning the trip beforehand as possible.
Check out the Engelmans' blog to read more about their road trip.