We often get questions from parents about taking their family on the road. Would this way of life prepare them to better live in this world? This is the question I tried to answer with the Roldan/Forest family traveling in their Bluebird bus with Aïsha, Mathilde and Mara, their 3 lovely young girls!
What is your vehicle? Did you restore it yourself?
Our house is a ’84 Bluebird Wanderlodge FC35 that pulls an ’87 Westfalia Syncro. The Westfalia was originally my dad’s and he gave it to me in 2011. I remember going with him to the Volkswagen dealership to buy the Westy when I was 9 (yes, it was in 1987!). I camped in that Westfalia my whole life!
The Wanderlodges were high-end motorhomes made by Bluebird and we didn’t change anything in it, except removing the orange shaggy carpet that we replaced with engineered hardwood.
You can tour the bus here: (slideshow at the bottom)
Where are you now and what is the best place you visited lately?
We are currently in British Columbia for a few weeks, visiting friends. We spent the last month in Southern Utah and it is one of our favorite places in the world! We hiked slot canyons near Kanab, rock climbed in St. George and mountain biked in Moab. We found an awesome spot to camp for free near Moab. It was paradise!
What are the main charasteristics you’re looking for in a mobile home for a family?
Since JF works full time, he needs to have a decent office space that is not the kitchen table (there is a small desk in the bedroom… not sure it qualifies as decent, but it works!). We needed to have a lot of storage space since we are 5 and travel with our daughters’ piano, guitar and violin, as well as some kitchen gadgets since healthy eating AND great coffee are a priority for us. I make a green juice almost every day!! And the best part: most of our power use is from solar, thanks to our 750 watts of solar panel and a 3000 w inverter!
We wanted the bus to be 35 feet or less to be able to fit in most National Parks campsites (35 feet is often the limit, especially on the East Coast) and because it is easier to move around than a 40 or 44 ft school bus. We wanted something solid that could endure our full-time living… and well… a bedroom with a door!
Do you manage to work as you’re on the road? How do you generate incomes?
Yes, we both work as translators. JF works full-time and I do occasional contracts. We often boondock to try to keep our camping costs low and stay longer in one place to save on gas and do day/weekend trips with the Westy. It’s the perfect combo. Our biggest expense is food, but we are not ready to compromise on our health!
What is the main challenge when you’re traveling with your kids in a bus?
Since our girls never went to school (or daycare for that matter), we are used to living together full-time. And the thing is, we don’t live in the bus, we live outside most of the time! Our backyard changes constantly, there is always something new to explore, a new trail, new landscapes. I actually find it much easier to travel with them than to stay at home!
Would you say that your kids are learning more from these adventures on the road?
We believe that we are giving them an amazing education by raising them on the road. Through the great experiences our traveling brings, our girls learn at their own pace. We talked about slavery and racism in the Louisiana cotton fields. We talked about the Gold Rush where it all started, from Skagway, Alaska to Dawson City, Yukon. We learned about the Spanish ships that sank off the Florida coast, of the treasures that are still hidden somewhere in that sea bottom and of the beginning of the Pirates of the Caribbean. We are partners in their learning process. It is truly fascinating to see how disconcertingly simple learning is for the children, when we do not impose our ideas of how learning should happen.
We want to give our girls the gift of time. The time to live, to listen to themselves, to find out who they truly are and what makes them feel alive and happy and connected to their essence far from the colossal influence of the majority, of mainstream society. We want to offer them a childhood away from the stress, from the life that goes too fast. We want to offer them parents who are truly present, relax and available, but above all, we want to learn and discover the world with them, because this is what makes us the happiest.
Do you think your kids will pursue this nomadic lifestyle?
I have no idea! It might go either way, I guess!
What is your next destination? And how do you decide what will the next stop be to satisfy everyone in the family?
We are going to the Yukon this summer. Yukon is home for us, even if we are originally from Quebec. Our three daughters were born there. It is good to spend a few months in the same place with other kids so they can take some classes and reconnect with old friends. The girls will do the mountain biking team this summer and one of them will do a guitar music camp.
As for the destination, well, we have a general idea of where we want to go, but the more you travel, the more your realize that making plans is pointless, since they keep changing… At this point, it is mostly JF and I that make the decision about where we go next.
Any advice for a family that would like to raise their kids on the road?
Traveling with other families is key to long-term travel, especially with older kids, and for us, adults. More and more families choose this lifestyle and many online groups exists to connect with one another. If the kids were previously in school and/or in many activities, expect that there will be a transition from the old lifestyle to the new. It’s all normal. Give it time! It is a great life, but it’s not always easy. If you expect it to be all vacation and smooth sailing, you might be disappointed. Traveling is challenging and humbling. And that’s why we love it so much.
The Roldan-Forest family: Catherine, Jean-François, Aïsha, Mathilde and Mara