This is what it’s like to live in a trailer with three kids—for seven months

Feeling burnt out, this family of five hit the road travelling across the U.S. in their RV. This is their adventure in photos.

Family Photo by Marcucci Photography

The decision to live in our trailer for seven months was made much in the same way people choose to take a sabbatical: a little bit of burnout, a desire to rediscover our creative interests, and a time to get to know ourselves all over again—the ideal recipe for adventure. Interestingly, it also happened at that folktale time of Saturn’s Return (Editors note: astrology buffs consider this a period of change and growth, usually occurring when you’re in your late 20s): I was 27, my husband 28. We had our savings to get through the winter and after seven years of building a wedding photo and video business, having three children and navigating the ever-inflating rental market, we needed a break from the day-to-day.

As it turns out, living in a trailer with our kids was some of the hardest work we have ever done.

When we began our trip, our kids were one, three and five years old, and having just finished a busy wedding season, we were heading into our calmer winter months. Travelling the southern United States felt like a great way to treasure this time of littleness in our children and explore our own creative journey.

Two girls sleeping in the car
Photo: Courtesy of Samantha Butler

Our first major hurdle was figuring out how to manage our long car rides with three kids in the backseat (without entirely losing our minds). Alternating movies and podcasts, and allowing no toys in the back seat—nothing to fight over—was a surprising success. Some of our favourite podcasts included WOW in the World, But Why? and Story Pirates for the kids, and The Robcast, This American Life and For The Love! with Jen Hatmaker for us. If they weren’t interested in our podcast, they’d nap. Win, win!

Two kids play in the woods
Photo: Courtesy of Samantha Butler

Our trailer is 30 feet long with no slide outs, and while we made it homey inside, our goal was to spend as much time outdoors as possible. We followed suggestions from Play the Forest School Way to plan activities that used their imagination and energy in constructive, creative ways—fort building was always a favourite, and is something that can be done (almost) anywhere: the forest, the ocean, in the palm fronds.

food being prepared in a kitchen
Photo: Courtesy of Samantha Butler

Our small kitchen required a lot of creative cooking, indoors and outdoors. Sticking to simple Mexican-inspired meals that allowed versatile toppings (hello, mango salsa!) helped us to keep cooking quick and nourishing. A couple of good knives, a set of measuring cups and a few metal bowls got us through meal prep.

Inside of family RV
Photo: Courtesy of Samantha Butler

Keeping our decor minimal helped keep the place feeling like home and a respite from the day outdoors. We all packed light: seven outfits for every family member, a small selection of toys, and our favourite books were all we had for entertainment.

Family eating dinner beside RV
Photo: Courtesy of Samantha Butler

We began planning for bedtime as soon as the kids woke up in the morning, keeping them moving, exercising and imagining all day, so that they’d be ready to rest at night. We put light-blocking curtains on their door and windows to help create darkness when the sun stayed out later than bedtime.

Girl painting and looking at books
Photo: Courtesy of Samantha Butler

Salomon family dancing in Bali 9 things we learned travelling around the world with kidsOur oldest kid was five-years-old when we were travelling, so it was important to keep her mind active and engaged. When we’d come home after a great adventure, we’d pull out watercolour paints and some of enriching books to learn more about the things we had seen. Books from the Welcome to the Museum series and the All About Reading curriculum helped to keep her learning while on the road.

Kids watching busker
Photo: Courtesy of Samantha Butler

We found creative ways to turn must-see stops into kid-centric zones. For example: downtown New Orleans during Mardi Gras isn’t exactly kid-friendly at night, so we avoided evening trips into the city and got our live music and dancing fix in the daytime.

Photo: Courtesy of Samantha Butler

We learned very early on to expect the unexpected and budget more than what we thought was necessary. Life hits you with roadblocks, and actual roads hit you with actual blocks along the way (hello, mountain driving!). We didn’t plan for the high cost of getting internet while on the road, or realize the amount of outdoor cooking equipment that we’d need with our tiny kitchen—not to mention and the frequent vehicle and trailer servicing to keep everything running smoothly!

Three kids and mom play on beach
Photo: Courtesy of Samantha Butler

Navigating unmet expectations or disappointment is a big part of trailer life: while we planned to spend a month in oceanside Texas, we had to change our plans because the weather. This put us out financially, as we rerouted our trip and we quickly learned that sometimes the plan just doesn’t work out.

Three girls looking at horses
Photo: Courtesy of Samantha Butler

In all, our seven months in the trailer was enriching, beautiful and… costly. Yes, it took us about six months to recover financially—despite how much we planned. But, it was worth it. Those seven months gave us energy and breath. The trip gave us a pivot point, a new direction.

It is no exaggeration to say that as a person, I was changed. I began to see the earth as a connected, natural, joyful, complex, painful space in a way I hadn’t seen it before. I saw my kids in a way I hadn’t seen them before, as we learned together. It broke us and rebuilt us. We came home tired, but it was the good kind of tired.

Read more:
11 travel hacks to make sure your baby actually sleeps while on vacation
7 road trip activities that will keep your kids busy

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